Culturally Intelligent Communities – Dealing with Differences – Unity

Life goes up and down and all around. And through it all, we have those around us who are close loved ones, friends, acquaintances, neighbors, colleagues. We are thankful for those who are close, who accept us as we are. Even when we disagree.

And then there are those people. People who are different. Or disagree with us. They just don’t fit in with our life.

We must be honest. There are so many things that divide us. Opinions about politics, religion, gender. Then add different generations, ethnicity, nationality. So, let’s talk about disagreements or differences of opinion. Another time, I will talk about other kinds differences.

When we have people around us, or even good friends, who disagree with us, what do we do with that? And, if they are NOT close friends, how do we manage disagreements? Especially those issues that run deeply into our sense of right and wrong?

We must start with understanding what unity, diversity, striving for unity, and agreeing to disagree all mean.

Unity is usually described as being the same, thinking the same way, doing the same things. Here are a few definitions :

• a whole or totality as combining all its parts into one
• the state or fact of being united or combined into one, as of the parts of a whole; unification.
• absence of diversity; unvaried or uniform character.
• oneness of mind, feeling, etc., as among a number of persons; concord, harmony, or agreement.

Which of these definitions really help us right now? Not the absence of diversity. The fact is, our world is very diverse. (More on diversity next time.) I also don’t like “agreement.” We can be in unity even if we disagree about things.

I prefer the first two definitions. It gives the image of different parts being combined into one whole. Think of our bodies. We are not all little brains walking around, or just feet walking around. Our bodies are different parts with different roles working together to make one body.

So, if unity is different parts being combined into a unified whole, can we be united even if we have different opinions? I think so.

First, we must be willing have hard conversations and to listen to one another well. My passion is to help us all stop and listen to one another. To hear what the other person says. Let’s start talking together.

In relating to the people in our lives with whom we disagree, we must always have a spirit of humility. We must recognize our propensity to get things wrong. Believe it or not, we are not always right!

We must always, always treat one another with respect and dignity. Though I may disagree with you, I still recognize God’s image in you. You are valuable. You are loved. You are human. You are worthy of my respect and dignity and kindness.

Finally, we must stop. Stop denigrating someone when they do not agree with us. Stop complaining that they are doing something we do not like*. Stop. Just stop. Don’t say anything if it cannot be respectful, full of dignity toward other people. Just stop.

That does not mean we have to agree. There is a lot of diversity in this world. A lot. I don’t always agree with my husband. (Gasp!) But I still choose to love him. That’s why we need to learn to agree to disagree.

*Complaining about something we don’t like is not the same as speaking out against evil, such as sexual and/or child abuse.


Culturally Intelligent Communities – How do we get there?

There is nothing easy about developing into Culturally Intelligent Communities. However, we can start with five not-so-easy but important steps.

First, we must have the DRIVE, the motivation, to grow and learn. Do we WANT our community to be a thriving, healthy, and safe environment where we can all flourish, using our differences for strength? Are we seeing those around us in need? Are we willing to do the work of becoming culturally intelligent?

Secondly, we need to start thinking with CULTURAL HUMILITY. Are we ready to listen to those who think or act or look differently than us? Are we willing to show respect and honor others’ dignity? Are we willing to think of others more positively? In Philippians 2:3-4, we read:

3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

Third, once we have drive/motivation and cultural humility, we need to grow in our KNOWLEDGE of the “others” around us. Are we ready to ask good questions to truly learn about those around us who may be or look different? Or act or think differently? Who are those in our community that are different from us? What do we need to learn about them to help us gain empathy and understanding for them?

Fourth, as individuals and as a community, our STRATEGY to increase our knowledge needs to be established and expanded. What do we need to do to grow our knowledge of those in our communities who are different from us? And what are our hidden biases that may be contributing to the lack of understanding on our part?

And fifth, ACTION. We cannot take in information without action. We are created to respond to learning and knowledge by actually doing something to reach out to others. It is also taking time to intentionally think through our reactions to those around us, what our responses might be and how to change them (our responses) so we are more supportive to the others we are reaching out to.

This short video shows four of the five steps I have just laid out from a little different angle and may be helpful for you.

Culturally Intelligent Communities

What are “Culturally Intelligent Communities?” What in the world are you talking about? Well, let me explain, starting with some definitions.

Culturally – an adjective that describes things related to culture. But what is culture? Culture is the characteristics and knowledge of a particular group of people, including language, religion, food, social habits (customs) and behaviors, music and arts, achievements. The group can be a specific nation, people, or other social group, including different generations within a people group.

Intelligent – also an adjective describing our ability to learn and grow. Multiple Intelligence theory (see Garnder and others) says each of us has different ways we are intelligent or gifted: rationally (use of words), physically, artistically, relating to people, understanding nature, etc.teacher-359311_640 with credit

Putting those two words together, then, Cultural Intelligence (CQ) is the capability to relate and work effectively in culturally diverse situations.

 Communities – The people we are in contact with – our family, neighborhoods, churches and other religious organizations, schools, who we see at stores, etc.

So…. A Culturally Intelligent Community is one where the people have the capability to relate to one another effectively, no matter how diverse it is.

 Why do we need CQ (Cultural Intelligence)? John Stonestreet and Brett Kunkle have said, “The modern world is filled with strife between people groups, from the streets of Palestine to the tensions between North and South Korea to the conflict between the Kurds and the Turks. In the recent past, racial conflict in Rwanda, Bosnia, and Darfur (Sudan) resulted in unspeakable violence and genocide. Chechnya. France. India. Sri Lanka. Russia. Bolivia. Belgium. Great Britain. Racial strife is found in nearly every country on earth.”[1] And that is just racial tension!

We also struggle with generational differences, religious tensions, gender issues, and the clamor in politics (in the West) is deafening! People are critical of anyone who does not agree with them. If you are not FOR me, you MUST be against me!

Here is a little secret: We live in a diverse world. And yet, for some reason, we expect smartphone-1445489_640everyone to think the same way, act the same way, live the same way. And we are taken by surprise when “others” DON’T. And then we feel threatened by those who think differently.

And yet, hasn’t it been when I have been challenged that I grow? That I am forced to think about something differently that my world expands even a little? That when I learn the feelings of the other person, that I grow in empathy?

 Why can’t we build communities that use our diversity for strength? Why not recognize that when we are working together, we grow personally and as a community to become stronger?

 That, my friends, is what Culturally Intelligent Communities is all about.

[1] Stonestreet, J. & Kunkle, B. (2017). A Practical Guide to Culture: Helping the Next Generation Navigate Today’s World. (pp. 279-280). Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook.